AFAR grantee Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, is featured by several major publications, including the New York Times and TIME, for his recent study on the declining ability to multitask as we age. Dr. Gazzaley and his colleagues published their findings in the April 2011 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA. The study, designed to examine differences in working memory, compared a test group of younger adults with a group of older people. Researchers asked participants to look at an image and identify its match after a brief pause. In a second trial, a distraction (a picture of a face) was added in the middle of the test. While both groups performed quite well on the initial test, the results of the experiment showed that older adults had a significantly harder time completing the task when they were interrupted. Using MRI scans, Dr. Gazzaley and his team believe they have found the reason for this disparity: the brains of older adults took much longer to switch between the different “networks” involved in studying the two images. Dr. Gazzaley believes that these results could have serious implications in modern society, where technology has made multitasking and interruptions basic parts of life. However, he also hopes that further research could lead to the development of techniques for both improving and preserving working memory, thus allowing older adults to keep up in a fast-paced work environment.
Dr. Adam Gazzaley is the founder of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at the University of California, San Francisco, and an associate professor of Neurology, Physiology and Psychiatry. He is a recipient of the 2005 Pfizer/AFAR Innovations in Aging Award and a 2002 Glenn/AFAR Postdoctoral Award.